As the Department of Transportation continues to evaluate the Mid-Delta Regional Airport’s application for enrollment in the alternate Essential Air Service (EAS) program, flight cancellations by current EAS provider Boutique Airlines has become a growing concern.
After presenting his monthly report to the Greenville City Council during their regular Tuesday meeting, airport director Sam Washington was informed by Mayor Errick Simmons of what resulted recently after members of his family and other passengers’ return flights were rescheduled several times and ultimately, cancelled altogether.
“I have seen notices come through of cancellations but no one has contacted me directly about it,” Washington told the mayor and council. “I think the challenge they are having right now is a lack of pilots because the other airlines are hiring their pilots.”
Washington said he would be reaching out to Boutique Airlines following Tuesday’s meeting to ascertain more information and pointed out that the issue of a pilot shortage has existed for the airline for some time.
He said to council, “I think it has just caught up with them now and I don’t think they want to admit it.”
In regard to the alternate EAS program enrollment, Washington is hopeful the DOT will approve the airport’s application so that it can secure Contour Air as the city’s EAS provider.
Boutique Airline’s EAS services will expire Sept. 30
“I actually reached out to the Department of Transportation yesterday and they are still in the process of evaluating. Michael Martin did tell me that they hope to have an answer for us at least by the beginning of August,” Washington said.
Simmons highlighted a letter of support from Senator Roger Wicker in the city’s endeavor to be approved for the program.
The potential to get the airport’s numbers back up to where the market once was —10,000 enplanements — is one of the most significant reasons for the airport’s application for enrollment in the alternate EAS program.
Washington informed the council during the June 1 meeting of a subsidy provided by the federal government to the airpot based on passenger enplanements.
If the airport reached 8,000 in enplanements, it would receive $150,000 for the year from the federal government, and, if it reached the 8,000 enplanements plateau and stayed between that and 10,000, the airport would qualify for $600,000 in subsidies.
Exceeding the 10,000 enplanements threshold and maintaining it for two consecutive years, however, is where the “grand prize” lies as it would qualify the airport for $1 million in subsidies.
Those subsidies could be used for improvement projects, upkeep of the runway, lighting systems and updates of that sort according to Washington.
He is of the belief Contour Air has the best opportunity to ensure the airport meets its desired threshold in the most expeditious time frame.
Following their unanimous decision during a June 1 regular meeting to apply for enrollment in the alternate EAS program and retain Contour Air, the council notified both members of the Senate and also its congressional delegation Simmons noted, adding, “There was no confusion by this council regarding who our choice was because when the council made the decision, a letter immediately went out to the delegation in that council order.”
Washington concluded, “We’re very hopeful that they’re going to go ahead and make that choice. All I’m waiting on now is for them to give us the green light and as soon as they say “yes,” we’re going to put all the wheels in motion.”